Manchester United was heavily beaten at Everton yesterday afternoon as Sir Alex Ferguson’s Premier League title assault came off the rails in spectacular style. United hasn’t lost at Goodison Park in five years but the Scot’s side was hardly in the game once Everton levelled. Ferguson blamed fatigue but fans can question the apparent apathy.
Following United’s handsome win at AC Milan in midweek a mood of high confidence coarsed through the squad.
It was a confidence born out in the manager’s team selection. Much against type, and despite Everton’s recent victories over Manchester City and Chelsea, Ferguson recalled Dimitar Berbatov to the team alongside Wayne Rooney in attack.
Coincidence perhaps but Rooney had his least effective game in a United shirt this year in a disastrous result for United with Chelsea taking a four point lead in the Premier League.
Still, Ferguson’s side was bright enough to take the lead with the returning Antonio Valencia providing Berbatov with the opening goal. The Bulgarian’s turn and shot off the crossbar was just his eighth of an unproductive season.
David Moyes’ Everton hardly needed a second invitation to equalise such is the belief in the Scot’s Europe-chasing side. Indeed, the home team was back in the game within three minutes as Diniyar Bilyaletdinov’s long-range shot beat van der Sar to the Dutchman’s left.
It was a great strike from the former-Lokomotiv Moscow player but Wes Brown cannot be happy that he turned his back on the Russian winger.
The defending hardly reach a higher standard as Everton achieved the win the side’s play deserved in the final ten minutes.
First Dan Gosling connected with Steven Pienaar’s left-wing cross with the United central defenders draw to the ball and not the midfielder’s surging run..
Then rumoured United summer target Jack Rodwell ran round Jonny Evans before beating van der Sar with a shot across the goalkeepers’ body. Sharp defending it certainly wasn’t.
“This is a bad result and at this time of the year we can’t afford results like that,” said Ferguson, pointing out the obvious with just 11 games to go.
“We were well beaten. I’m disappointed and the players are disappointed.
“We started the game well enough but their goal galvanised them and gave them the incentive.
“You don’t want to lose a goal so quickly after going in front but the real effect showed in the second half when we were second best.
“The players are human beings, they play for Manchester United, and they don’t like losing but they’ve lost today.
“Milan could have had an impact. It is difficult to think that when you go through all the emotions and the pace and intensity and atmosphere of a game like Tuesday, you don’t lose something.”
It was United’s sixth Premier League defeat of the season and a demoralising one at that. Individual defensive errors cost Ferguson’s side dearly but it’s not as if the warnings hadn’t existed from Tuesday’s win in Italy.
More worrying still, United could do little to combat Everton’s effervescence in attack. It’s a footballing cliché, of course, but the home side appeared to want the victory more.
Such is the fragile nature of United’s confidence this season that Patrice Evra pointed to the lack of belief once the home side had equalised.
“I don’t want to give the excuse that we are tired after the amazing night in the San Siro,” said Evra, who has captained the side this season.
“Yes, we are tired. I am tired. But mentally we lost the game.
“Everyone was talking about how tired they were and how their legs were tired. We were not focused about the game.
“That is why I don’t want to use Milan as an excuse. We didn’t have the spirit of winners and that is why we lost.
“We didn’t believe enough. We just needed a little bit more belief and we could have got a better result.”
Ferguson will need all his man-management skills to pick the side up for Tuesday night’s match against West Ham United at Old Trafford.